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News > Latin America

Hebe de Bonafini, Latin America's Most Famous Mother

  • Hebe Maria Pastor de Bonafini, now 88 years old, continues fighting for human rights against impunity.

    Hebe Maria Pastor de Bonafini, now 88 years old, continues fighting for human rights against impunity. | Photo: Asociacion Madres de Plaza de Mayo

Published 14 May 2017

On Mother's Day, we spotlight Argentine activist Hebe de Bonafini, a tireless defender of human rights who has inspired thousands.

Kika, as she was called in a small village in Buenos Aires, had a quiet and reserved childhood. When she was 14, she got married and later had three children. 

Argentina's Mothers of Plaza de Mayo - 40 Years in the Struggle for Justice

She was born in the outskirts of Ensenada, nearby the city of La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires, on December 4, 1928.

As Argentina sank into a brutal dictatorship in the 1970s, the small-town girl saw her life turned upside down as two of her children and a daughter-in-law were kidnapped, tortured and killed for opposing the military government.

"Before my son was kidnapped, I was just another woman, another housewife," Bonafini said during an interview. 

"I didn't know many things, I wasn't interested. The economic, the political situation of my country were totally foreign to me, indifferent. But since my son disappeared, the love I felt for him, the eagerness to seek him until I found him, to pray, to ask, to demand that they deliver it to me, the encounter and the anxiety shared with other mothers who felt the same yearning as mine, have put me in a new world."

Hebe Maria Pastor de Bonafini, now 88 years old, continues fighting for human rights against impunity as head of one of the most important human rights organizations: the association of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. 

Since 1977, Hebe and other women who had disappeared or murdered children meet every Thursday at the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires in front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace.

Human Rights Activists Demand Justice in Macri's Argentina

The women wear a signature white handkerchief over their heads and demand justice for more than 30,000 people who were disappeared by the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

Protests at the time were met with armed suppression by military police. Despite the threat of injury and death, the Argentine mothers moved forward with speaking out against government violence.

When British musician Sting visited Argentina in 1987, he invited the organization to accompany him to the stage at the River Plate soccer stadium during the song "They Dance Alone," which was inspired by their struggle. Hebe also gave her white handkerchief to singer Bono, when the band U2 visited the country in 1998.

De Bonafini and her organization have suffered insults, death threats, attacks and even torture. She was wounded in the head by police in a university demonstration. Years ago, two people entered her home, and since Hebe was not found, they tortured her daughter Alejandra, beating her and burning her with cigarettes.

She also reported death threats after sending an open letter to Pope Francis asking the Argentina-born Catholic leader to help her country face “hunger” and “institutional violence.” 

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After Macri took office, she was charged by a federal prosecutor on charges of "incitement to collective violence" and "attempt against public order" and a court ordered her arrest after she refused to give continuous testimonies in a case of alleged embezzlement of public funds. The case, however, was dismissed after tens of thousands of Argentines poured into the streets to protest and defend Bonafini.

Macri has criticized the human rights activist, calling her "crazy" and saying there are only 8,000 cases of disappeared people during the country's Dirty War. The Dirty War was an offshoot of Operation Condor, a Cold War-era campaign of violence across Latin America backed by the U.S. to extinguish leftist movements. 

She has also been an outspoken supporter of leftist leaders such as Che Guevara, Augusto Sandino, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.

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